HL Deb 08 July 1957 vol 204 cc787-90

3.50 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this, the first of two Private Members' Bills which I am moving to-day, is short and very technical. Its purpose is to amend the arrangements for the re-registration of illegitimate births on the subsequent marriage of the parents. It is designed to put right an anomaly in the law disclosed by a decision in the Courts in 1952 in the case of Angelini v. Dick. It is the wish of modern society to remove the stigma of bastardy as far as possible. In furtherance of this aim, we have provided that children born out of wedlock whose parents subsequently marry are in nearly all cases legitimised, and machinery for re-registration and the issue of a new birth certificate exists.

The law of legitimisation tends to be governed by the domicile of the father at the date of the marriage. Where the father as domiciled here at that date the matter is fairly simple, and this Bill is not concerned; but where the father is not domiciled in England or Wales complications can arise. Many of the countries of the world follow us in legitimising births on the subsequent marriage of parents. I will call them "legitimising countries." Other countries do not. Where the father was domiciled in a "legitimising country" both at the time of the birth of the child and the time of the subsequent marriage, then the child is regarded as legitimate under English Common Law. The Common Law does not apply, however, if the father was domiciled in a "non-legitimising" country at the time of the birth, even though he moved to a "legitimising country" at the time of his marriage. In this case the child is legitimised by our Statute Law.

Now there is statutory provision for the re-registration of illegitimate births and the issue of new birth certificates. The Legitimacy Act, 1926, and the Births and Deaths Registration Act, 1953, allow the Registrar-General to do this. In 1952 there was the case in the courts of Angelini v. Dick, which, at the least, threw doubt on the legality of re-registration of those illegitimate births which fell into the category legitimised by the Common Law. The same doubt did not arise in respect of those births which were legitimised by the Statute Law. This Bill is to make it quite clear that the re-registration provisions of the Acts of 1926 and 1953 apply for the future and retrospectively not only to those people legitimised by the Statute Law but also to those legitimised by the Common Law.

The Bill is purely technical, and will cover all those legitimised by the Common Law on whose re-registration and new birth certificates the decision in the case of Angelini v. Dick may have thrown doubt. It will also cover any who may have been refused new birth certificates as a result of that case. It is believed that about 300 people a year are affected. They are people who are legitimate in every way, but owing to a legal anomaly there is doubt whether they can be reregistered and get a new birth certificate. If this Bill passes there will be no doubt as to the legality of a new certificate. The Bill was welcomed by all sides in another place. It was sponsored toy the honourable Member for Hereford, and it was not amended in its passage. I hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading: and relieve the position of a few unfortunate people who were born illegitimate and who have become fully legitimate under the Common Law but who may either not be able to get their new birth certificates owing to a legal anomaly or, if they have already got: them, may find their validity questioned at some future date. The clauses of the Bill are purely technical and I need not detail them to your Lordships. I commend the Bill to your Lordships and move its Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Hawke.)

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, we certainly shall extend to this Bill every possible help from this side of the House in order to facilitate its passage. I think it is a useful reform, but I wish it had been possible for the Government to go somewhat further. I think we ought not to be satisfied until every child born in this country is able to produce a clear birth certificate without the fact of its illegitimacy appearing on the face of the certificate.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I have made careful inquiries on the point, and I have been informed that it takes someone with some technical knowledge to distinguish a birth certificate under this re-registration scheme from one which is an original certificate of a legitimate birth.


I was not really referring to that type of case but to the type of case where a child is born illegitimate of parents one of whom was married at the time of the child's birth. In those cases it is not possible for a child to get a certificate of legitimacy. I know that that is going very much futher than this Bill seeks to do. This Bill seeks merely to remedy an anomaly, and it certainly does so. But I cannot resist making the point that while we are about it (it is not the child's fault that it is illegitimate) and while we are seeking to give children this chance of a clean birth certificate, it seems a pity that we should leave this one door open, this door where one of the parents was married at the time of the child's birth and even though subsequently there are divorce proceedings and the parties get married that child can never get a legitimate birth certificate. I know that there is not much that can be done under this Bill, but I think that that is a matter which could well be given consideration in the near future, so that we may make a clean sweep of these unfair anomalies.

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, I feel sure that your Lordships will be in agreement with me when I say that my noble friend, Lord Hawke, has fully and most efficiently explained the purpose of this Bill. It only remains for me to indicate the Government's attitude on it. It has been made absolutely clear by my noble friend that there is an omission in the law about re-registration of the birth of certain persons who have been legitimated, and that may well cause the greatest pain and embarrassment to persons affected if it is not put right. The Government agree that it is only right that all persons who are legitimated by the subsequent marriage of their parents should have the right to obtain a new birth certificate showing their legitimacy, and therefore they give their fullest support to this Bill, which I believe has already fully commended itself to your Lordships. In regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, he recognises that this is a step in the right direction, and a step which he would desire. I have no doubt that his remarks during the course of his speech will be taken note of by my right honourable friend.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.